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Washington Redskins And Houston Texans Seek Redemption

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Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Four 2012 playoff teams fell out of contention in 2013. I wrote about two of them last week, the Falcons and the Vikings, and thought that both teams would face a long, steep climb, but that the former might have a shot at a wildcard slot this coming season (with the Panthers falling) and that the Vikings were a team on the rise. Slowly.

No team dropped as precipitously as the Houston Texans, though their season mirrored Atlanta’s in some ways. Finishing 12-4, they were in the conference championship in 2012, as the Falcons were, then had a season from hell. But the Texans’ 2013 campaign should be listed in Dante’s “Inferno.”

The team started well, with two wins. Quarterback Matt Schaub led the Texans to a comeback win over the Chargers. (Fans with a short memory might not realize he’s been a good quarterback statistically during most of his career.) Then it all went wrong. Think of bad seasons for the Cubs and Lions.

Schaub set a new league record by throwing pick-sixes in four straight games. Then he had an interception-free game, but was hurt and replaced by T.J. Yates, who proceeded to toss his own pick-six. They suffered a bizarre loss to the Rams in which they gave up an interception for a touchdown, a fumble for a score and a punt return for a TD. Instant demoralization.

The Texans lost their final 14 games. They had some major injuries, including to Schaub, though that might’ve been a blessing to him. (Angry fans were showing up at his home.) Also injured were Arian Foster.

Houston scored 416 points in 2012, only 334 in 2013. They allowed 331 in the earlier season, then gave up 428 in 2013, though of course some of that was not the defense’s fault. They suffered through more than their share of close losses.

You have to feel for coach Gary Kubiak, who collapsed during a game in November. (His problems, fortunately, were not as serious as first believed.) He was fired and is now the offensive coordinator for Baltimore.  

But you know what? The team has a good defense, which is better with the addition of Jadeveon Clowney. (It was imperative to get a second rusher. Let me say this: Every time I’ve watched the Texans on DirecTV, it looked as if J.J. Watt was being held.) They needed help on the defensive line and got it.

Yet there’s an elephant in the Houston room: Who plays quarterback?

The Texans waited until the fourth round to draft a guy under center, Pitt’s Tom Savage. Some thought he’s a diamond in the rough who just needs honing. Maybe. How much you want to bet on it?

I’m not crazy about their roster of QBs. Yates is still there, along with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who shares the same penchant – throwing interceptions. Fitzpatrick probably begins as the starter.

But along the same lines as the Browns and Vikings, the Texans need to get their new guy in there as soon as possible. This team could be a contender with even decent quarterback play. I see them as the most likely of the four dropping teams (Atlanta, Minnesota and Washington) to return to the playoffs.

That brings me to the Washington Redskins. They were 10-6 in 2012 and won the NFC East with a seven-game winning streak at the end of the regular season, starting with victories against division foes Philly, Dallas and the Giants. Four of the seven wins were by a touchdown or less. Washington scored 436 points and gave up 388, meaning that they were outscoring teams, not playing great defense. Sometimes RGIII appeared to win games all by himself, though Alfred Morris had a terrific year.

Well, it turned around last year. The team scored only 334 points and gave up a whopping 478. They defeated only Oakland, Chicago and San Diego, going winless in the division. They lost the final eight games of the year. (Remember, though, that Mike Shanahan decided not to play RGIII the last three of those games, for reasons that are not clear.)

Washington paid a huge price to get RGIII. They didn’t have a pick in the first round of this year’s draft, and their first selection, at 47, was linebacker Trent Murphy of Stanford. Their overall draft was B at best, but some gave it a C or even D.

The team did manage to pluck some good free agents, led by receiver DeSean Jackson, the former Eagle. They also signed defensive lineman Jason Hatcher from the Cowboys, corner Tracy Porter and safety Ryan Clark. Hmm.

The Redskins had a horrible defense in 2013, and holes in every area. Of their free-agent pickups, only Hatcher will be a big help. I still don’t like their secondary.

The team will be competitive. RGIII will play in every game, and I love the addition of Jackson. Jay Gruden has to be an improvement over the 2013 version of Mike Shanahan, whose coaching left much to be desired. RGIII has more weapons, with Jackson and Andre Roberts. Is it enough?

I think the NFC East will be hard-fought, with no great team. The winner will be 10-6, maybe even 9-7. If I had to bet, I’d go against Washington. Their defense, horrible in 2013, is a bit better. That’s probably not enough. The Giants are the best bet in that division if everything else seems to be a tossup. They do things right, have a fine quarterback and make strong choices. Dallas is always overrated, and they, too have gaping holes, especially on defense. The Eagles will contend with the Giants in that division.

I like the Texans’ chances to make the playoffs if their quarterback play is better, and the Falcons have a decent shot too. The Vikings appear to be a season away.

(Next: Which teams that didn’t make the playoffs in 2013 have the best shot of breaking through?)